Major revisions to No Child Left Behind welcomed by education officials

Local and state education officials support some of the major revisions to the No Child Left Behind law that were passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week.

The bill, called the Every Student Succeeds Act, does away with many of the federal controls over schools related to addressing low achievement, and instead leaves more of the authority to states and local school boards.

The House voted 359-64 to pass the bill. The Senate is slated to vote on it on Wednesday, and many expect it to pass. If adopted, it would replace the No Child Left Behind act passed in 2001 under George W. Bush.

The ESSA bill would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which concentrated on providing equal educational opportunity. Reauthorization was last done under No Child Left Behind, which imposed sanctions on schools whose students did not score as proficient on reading and math assessments. Kansas and many other states had temporary waivers from some requirements.

Kansas representatives split on the bill. Republicans Lynn Jenkins, of Topeka, and Mike Pompeo, of Wichita, voted for it. Republicans Tim Huelskamp, of Fowler, and Kevin Yoder, of Overland Park, voted against it.

“The Every Student Succeeds Act finally replaces No Child Left Behind and removes any Common Core mandates from our schools by handing more classroom decisions back to local districts, school boards and teachers where they belong,” Jenkins said in a statement. “They know best how to help their students excel in the classroom — not Washington bureaucrats.”

Laurie Folsom, president of the Lawrence Education Association, said that doing away with some of the punitive measures of No Child Left Behind addressed some of the biggest stumbling blocks for improving student achievement.

“I think a lot of what they’ve done has addressed the most difficult issues,” Folsom said. “No Child Left Behind, being as punitive as it was in order to initiate change, has been addressed in many of the new ESSA recommendations.”

Schools have long been required to assess students and break down results by race and socioeconomic status, and No Child Left Behind used the federal sanctions to push for proficiency for all student subgroups.

In its initial assessment of the more than 1,000-page bill, the Kansas State Board of Education also supports some of the key changes, said Denise Kahler, KSBE director of communications. Kahler said in an email that the increased flexibility provided in the act reflects an acknowledgement that states and local educators are better situated than federal officials to determine how to improve their schools.

“The bill sets parameters for state accountability systems but gives each state the flexibility to design a school accountability system that best meets the needs of students in their state,” she said.

The bill maintains annual assessments for students in grades 3-8 and high school, requiring them to be broken down into various student subgroups, as well as some performance guidelines.

Some representatives who voted against the bill argue that the role of the federal government in public education remains too prominent.

“The large federal education bill passed [last] week puts too much power in the hands of Washington bureaucrats to decide the priorities of our local schools,” said Yoder, who voted against the bill, in a statement. “Restoring local control to states and our communities and putting parents and teachers back in charge is the best way to educate our children, not growing the federal government.”

Kahler said that although the bill maintains assessments as a means to measure proficiency, it would provide states more flexibility in how the results are used to both identify and support underperforming schools and demographic challenges.

“This better reflects our state’s vision that assessments are only part of the equation when it comes to measuring a student’s readiness for post-secondary pursuits,” she said.

Folsom said another contentious part of NCLB was how assessment results, particularly “student growth measures” that track a student’s progress over time, were used to evaluate teachers. Some of the mandates meant to hold teachers accountable for student achievement didn’t make sense, she said.

“Holding a science teacher accountable for what English teachers in that student’s past have or haven’t taught is an example of the kind of nonsensical way that teachers are being held accountable,” she said.

The bill opens up the possibility of alternative ways to measure student progress. Kahler said the bill provides for pilots at the state level so states can research new and improved methods of measuring student progress from year to year.

Currently, student growth measures make up 20 percent of a teacher’s annual evaluation. Folsom was clear to point out that teachers do need to be evaluated, and she thinks sometimes it is misconstrued that what teacher unions advocate for is no or minimal evaluation, but that isn’t the case.

“In the modern day I think what we want is a fair evaluation, that the effort that most teachers put forth is actually what teachers are evaluated on,” she said.

Folsom said that because the bill is allowing more flexibility from the state, it’s going to offer Kansas the opportunity to maybe make more sense of the connection between student growth measures and teacher evaluations, though she noted that doesn’t necessarily guarantee an improvement.

“Whether our state chooses to make it a rational choice or not is a completely different thing, but there is going to be that flexibility that could be used as an opportunity,” Folsom said.